- Education and Training: extension, mentoring, networking
Problem and Justification: Over the last 3 years, an advisory group of the UMass Extension Fruit and Vegetable Programs from around the state met annually and identified their top priorities in integrated crop management (ICM) topics for professional development of Extension Educators as: drought, weed science, entomology, and use of technology for record keeping and outreach. Coming out of the worst drought in 50 years, Massachusetts farmers are aware of climate related struggles now more than ever. We expect to see at least 5 more retirements in Agricultural Extension over the next 3-5 years in Massachusetts out of a team of 22. In many cases, these are the only specialists in their fields for the entire state. We are not able to meet the needs of our grower stakeholders. Meanwhile, many new and remaining Extension Educators continue to conduct research and education in other areas ICM as requested by our stakeholders.
Solution and Approach: Our proposed solution is to offer monthly peer mentoring groups to Agricultural Extension professionals at UMass and related staff. This approach will enable experienced educators to share their wealth of knowledge and skills with early career educators before they retire, promote increased collaborations among Extension peers, fill organizational knowledge gaps and strengthen self-confidence related to ICM skills among educators. In the first year of the project, mentoring groups will be formed, gaps in ICM skills and confidence will be identified by participants, a professional development plan will be made by participants, and educational programs will be offered bringing in expertise to mentor group meetings and an annual Extension staff retreat. In Year 2, peer mentor group participants will participate in an ICM professional development opportunity in New England identified in their professional development plan from year 1 such as job shadowing, conference attendance, or a specific skill building activity resulting in strengthened regional collaborations related to ICM. In Year 3, peer mentor group participants will offer one educational output such as a workshop, a guide, or a training video based on what they learned in Year 2. This will result in implementation of skills by Extension professionals as well as farmer knowledge gain. Annually a workshop will be hosted on an ICM topic chosen by the peer mentoring groups but open to farmers and other educators. The result of this proposal will be 10 peer mentored and better trained Extension professionals acquiring the skills and resources needed to fill farmer identified gaps in ICM and at least 100 farmers receiving training in ICM topics from these mentored professionals.
Performance targets from proposal:
10 UMass Extension professionals (ASPs) who participate in peer mentoring groups and educational workshops about priority ICM topics will develop 10 new state and regional professional collaborations and implement their new knowledge and skills in educational programs, services and/or information products for 100 farmers.